UConn vulnerable but victorious against UCLA in the women’s Sweet 16

ALBANY, N.Y. — UConn might have looked vulnerable in its past two games, but the No. 2 seed Huskies are still in the hunt for a 12th consecutive Women’s Final Four.

They moved into the Elite Eight on Friday with a 69-61 victory over No. 6 UCLA. And they got a fantastic fourth quarter from junior point guard Crystal Dangerfield in doing it.

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The Huskies have made the Final Four every season since 2008 and are seeking their 12th NCAA title. They are still a step away from going to Tampa, Florida, but proved a point in ousting the Bruins. They trailed 50-49 after three quarters, but didn’t panic. Their experience showed in the final quarter.

Dangerfield had 11 of her 15 points in the final period, and the Huskies’ defense was able to make a last stand against the Bruins, holding them to 11 points. Senior Napheesa Collier led UConn with 25 and also had 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Freshman Christyn Williams had 14 points for the Huskies.

Crystal Dangerfield’s 11 fourth-quarter points helped UConn survive a scare from UCLA in the women’s Sweet 16. Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports

The past two seasons, UConn came into the NCAA tournament unbeaten, then lost in overtime in the national semifinals, to Mississippi State in 2017 and Notre Dame last season. This season, the Huskies fell twice in the regular season, at Baylor and at Louisville, both No. 1 seeds in this tournament. That was enough to drop UConn to a No. 2 seed for the first time since 2006.

The Huskies weren’t thrilled about that, feeling they had been undervalued. Meanwhile, UCLA — which made the Elite Eight last season — is a team that had been steadily building since losing four in a row early in the Pac-12 season.

The Bruins’ tourney victories over No. 11 Tennessee and No. 3 Maryland showed their rebounding prowess, which made them seem like a potentially dangerous foe for the Huskies. And they did outrebound UConn 41-38. But the Huskies shot 46.6 percent from the field compared to UCLA’s 31.3.

UCLA is now 0-6 against UConn, including a loss in the 2017 Sweet 16. Bruins coach Cori Close and her staff visited UConn a few years ago, the type of thing the Huskies coaching staff has generally welcomed from other teams to try to help grow the game.

“So I had a chance to get to know her and her staff. She has a lot of energy,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said prior to Friday’s game. “I like the way she handles herself and UCLA.

“Ever since Cori’s got there, they recruited great. They’ve accomplished an awful lot on the court, and they seem to be in this position a lot lately.”

But no team has been in position to win championships more than UConn. When asked Thursday if the Huskies (34-2) were playing with a chip on their shoulders because of the No. 2 seed, Auriemma made a joke of it.

“I don’t even know what that means today,” he said. “I know what it used to mean.”

Auriemma then recalled how when his team lost in the 2001 national semifinals, the returning players — Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi among them — carried the memory of that defeat all the time to fuel them for their run to a perfect season in 2002.

“It showed up in practices every day and the way we played every day,” Auriemma said. “Today, the chip on the kids’ shoulders lasts until the next text. Chip on their shoulder? They’ve got a chip in their phone. That other stuff, it doesn’t exist anymore.

“How are you going to have a chip on your shoulder when your best friends are all the kids you play against? You’ve got everybody on speed dial because you played against these kids growing up. I liked it better when everybody hated each other. All the hate’s gone. It’s no fun.”

That might be so, but if there’s a score that Huskies do feel they have to settle, it’s in the Final Four after the disappointment of the past two years. And while things looked a little shaky after three quarters Friday, when it was all said and done, the Huskies were winners once again.

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